"I don't like ravens," says Fili.
They are sitting on the garden wall. Kili's boots do not reach the tops of his mother's rosebushes, even when he stretches out his legs.
"That's a robin, stupid," he says, pointing a stubby finger at the fat bird poking for worms among the grass.
Fili cuffs the back of his head. "The raven's up in that tree, stupid."
Kili squints up. Sure enough, he can see it now—bobbing in the high branches of the oak tree that overshadows their house. He sees a curved jet-black beak, a brooding ruff of feathers, wings folded sleekly back.
"Why not?" he asks, and Fili's shoulders hunch in a defensive shrug.
"They're…sad." Fili won't meet his gaze.
Kili kicks his boots against the stones. "They're just birds."
His brother sighs. "I know."
"It is the heirloom of our people," Thorin says gravely, and they nod together, hands fisted in the skirts of their rough-woven tunics. More often than ever, now, Uncle Thorin speaks to them of their people. Of Erebor, where Smaug, thrice-cursed, hoards their gold. He speaks of days long past, of kingship, and fealty, and honor—and Kili thinks that the words are strange and frightening, sometimes, but still he wonders why their mother turns away with a frown, her lips drawn tight.
Tonight Uncle has brought the crown.
It is beautiful—but not like Ama's flowers are, or dewdrops fresh on the grass. This is a hard kind of beauty, old and secret and proud. Kili does not think he is allowed to touch it.
"What are they?" he asks at last, for there is some intricate pattern to the metal-work, but he does not know what it is.
Thorin's fingers run over sleek wings, curved beaks, and Kili thinks he should have guessed. "Do you not see, Kili? Ravens. The ravens of Erebor were ever the messengers and heralds of our kingdom. They fled when the dragon came, and they will not return, until…" his sentence trails away unfinished, and his brow darkens.
But Kili is worried by something else. "Ravens," he murmurs, and looks anxiously towards Fili, because he remembers a conversation on the garden wall, not too long ago, and remembers that his brother must one day be king. "Uncle, Fili does not—" he begins, but he feels his brother's fingers close vise-like around his wrist, and it stills him.
Thorin speaks again, of their grandfather and their great-grandfather and the throne and the gold, but Kili is only half-listening. His eyes are on Fili, worrying, wondering.
Fili's eyes are on the crown.
His brother is out half the night before they depart. As a consequence, Kili does not sleep much either. He hears Fili come in in the wee hours of the morning, kicking his boots off in the doorway.
Kili moves quietly—it does not do to wake Mum, if she, at least, has been able to sleep—and finds his brother sitting before the fire.
"Are you ready?" he asks, and it is a flat question, but the only one of many he can bring himself to ask.
Fili's pipe is in his hand, but he makes no move to light it. His cheeks seemed flushed against the pallor of his skin, but perhaps it is just the warmth of the hearth.
"I will be."
Kili chews on his lip. He does not know if he is ready—he is, very much so, until he thinks of his mother and leaving and what lies ahead. Then he does not feel ready at all, even though he knows such hesitation is childish.
In the morning, he hopes, it will all look different.
"Want a smoke?" Fili offers his pipe, and Kili takes it, appreciating the gesture. His brother is much quieter than he, but his ways around words always awe Kili.
Kili smokes and Fili sharpens one of his knives. Together, they watch as the ashes fall from the logs like frail black feathers.
The Eagle's Carrock is another world. Kili thinks he would feel faint at the great height, perilous and cold, but there is Thorin—and Thorin may be—
Then Gandalf passes his hand over Thorin's battered face, and Kili breathes again as his uncle gasps, rises, lives.
Kili forgets the fire and the darkness and the wheeling terror of the eagles' flight. Thorin lives, and the company is safe, and the Mountain—
They can see the Mountain.
He stands beside Fili and thinks Erebor, kingship, honor, all the words that Thorin said so reverently, so many times.
"A raven!" Oin cries out. "The birds are returning to the Mountain!"
"That, my dear Oin, is a thrush," Gandalf corrects him, with a hint of amusement.
It is only then that Kili dares to look at his brother. "Do you hear that? Just a thrush."
Fili's smile is unreadable. "No need for the reassurance, brother. I'm not a child anymore."
He had thought it would be brighter. Yet there is so little light inside the mountain—it is all shadows and glimmers, nothing more—and the air is thick as smoke.
Thorin does not seem to notice. He rarely looks up, and never looks out—and he says nothing at all of air or light, the trembling of leaves or the splash of water.
Thorin speaks of gold.
The ravens gleam darkly on his brow, the crown that Kili first saw in Ered Luin, and it has not changed…there is still something old and secret and proud clinging to it, though Kili no longer knows if he would call it beautiful.
That night, he finds his brother on the wall. They have been here a day, and already there are shifts and tremors in this new world not of their making. Soon, Thorin may forbid them to set foot outside the Mountain itself. But for now, they can still gaze at the stars.
Kili breathes again.
Fili does not smile at his coming—Fili rarely smiles now—but the lines of his shoulders relax slightly when Kili sits beside him.
"They have returned," Fili says at last. His voice sounds hollow. When Kili does not answer, he elaborates. "The ravens."
"The dragon is dead," Kili replies. "Uncle said…"
"I remember." Fili nods briefly. His face is tense and pale in what moonlight there is.
Kili does not know what to say. He would speak of home, of the old days, but to do so would be to concede that something is very, very wrong. He does not think that either of them are ready for that.
"I have never liked ravens," Fili rejoins, speaking softly. "Horrid luck, isn't it?" And then unexpectedly, he crumples forward, and covers his face with his hands.
Kili panics, tugging at his coat as he did when they were children. He would ask what it is that is tormenting him, but for once he is the one who cannot find the words.
Fili recovers, straightening, and resting one hand on Kili's shoulder. "Forgive me, brother. I am tired."
Kili chews his lip.
They sit in silence, watching the flicker of lights in the ruins of Dale, and once, Kili sees a sleeked-wing shape, blacker still against the darkness, flit down from the heights of the Mountain.
In the morning, Kili hopes, it will all look different.